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The Long Island History Project

It’s a long island with a long history. Want to hear it? Interviews with historians, scholars, authors and anyone with a story to tell and a passion for this unique region of New York.

Sep 30, 2016

When an athletic, thrill-seeking millionaire builds a mansion hideaway on the outskirts of the city, stocking it with a technologically advanced fleet of cars, boats and airplanes along with trophies of his exploits, there's a good chance he's either Batman or a Vanderbilt. Meet William K. Vanderbilt II circa 1910.

Just after the turn of the last century, William (or Willie K.) was heir to the Vanderbilt fortune and all the pressures that went with it. Reeling from a public relations disaster in Lake Success, he diverted his attention to Centerport and created Eagle's Nest, an idyllic private retreat with space for a public museum housing his collection of marine specimens and cultural artifacts.

On today's episode we speak with Stephanie Gress, Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, the institution formed when Vanderbilt willed his estate be perpetuated as a museum.

Our discussion uncovers Willie K.'s scientific pursuits, his connections to the American Museum of Natural History, golfing with Sam Snead and the probabilities of Vanderbilts in space. We also talk about the challenges of preserving such a unique museum collection and how generations of school kids on Long Island have thrilled to the only Egyptian mummy between Brooklyn and Great Britain.